Together for a united Europe | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 14.09.2013
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Together for a united Europe

As representatives of the peoples of France and Germany met to celebrate their friendship, both countries agreed that their similarities and differences are to Europe's benefit.

Frances President Francois Hollande (L) smiles while talking to Germanys Chancellor Angela Merkel as they attend a meeting with Business 20 and Labour 20 representatives during the G20 summit on September 6, 2013 in Saint Petersburg. AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

French President Francois Hollande enjoys a few lighter moments with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

One Franco-German commemorative event has followed another in 2013. Fifty years ago in January, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and President Charles de Gaulle sealed the reconciliation of the two former enemies with the Elysee Treaty. And in May, both countries marked 25 years of the Franco-German Finance and Economic Council.

But in all the celebrating, the focus shouldn not just be on politics. And so this week representatives of cities that have founded cross-border partnerships, along with members of Franco-German companies, orchestras and friendship groups, met in Bonn to celebrate their relationships. These cross-border alliances are so important to German President Joachim Gauck that he made the trip from Berlin specifically to be at the event.

Speaking in the plenary hall of the former German Bundestag, Gauck said he knew of "no two other countries with such a stable and tightly knit network of personal and institutional relationships." The site of his speech was yet another reminder of the old days, as the German government was based in Bonn during the time of Adenauer and de Gaulle.

The young no longer need reconciliation

Charles de Gaulle (left) and Konrad Adenauer (right) in Bonn in 1962

The Elysee Treaty was a big gesture for Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer

Though reminiscing can also be a problem, said Gauck. "Hardly any of today's youth can understand how Germany and France were able to face each other full of hatred. Reconciliation is no longer the driving force to show interest in each other," he said.

"It's no longer about nostalgia," said Alain Juppe, former French prime minister and current mayor of Bordeaux, speaking with DW while in Bonn. "On the contrary, we look to the future. We are very aware that it's better to move forward in this new world together rather than separately."

Some of the young people in Bonn for the ceremony told DW how much the Franco-German friendships mean to them, talking of semesters abroad, student exchange programs in France and friendships that continue to this day. A young woman mentioned a regret, however, remembering how at parties in France people "would only speak of differences and not the similarities" between the countries. And yet, both countries have so much in common, interests and challenges mentioned by both Gauck and Juppe.

Permanently striving for dialogue

But do the many similarities actually exist? The distance between the countries is often quite visible, expressed today by the interactions between Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Francois Hollande - be it the issue of intervening in Syria, or the European economy and politics.

Franco-German city partnership between Hauteville-Lompnes and Ronneburg, Photo: Comité du Jumelage (Frau Janine Jaubert) in Hauteville-Lompnes. Copyright: Janine Jaubert

City partnerships between Germany and France have helped citizens from both countries to interact

Juppe does not deny this. "Franco-German cooperation is not always a bed of roses. We do not always have the same interests, and we have conflicts," he said. "But we are absolutely convinced: If we want to end the gruesome chapter of the last century, we need to develop a relationship of trust, and systematically strive for dialogue between France and Germany."

Differences may even be good

Frank Baasner, director of a German-French Institute in Ludwigsburg, goes one step further. He says the differences between the two countries can even be helpful in the European political arena.

"It has often been the case that having diametrically opposite starting points has forced both sides to move," said Baasner, speaking with DW. And then the northern EU countries have tended to rally around Germany and the southern members have backed France, and all have often found a viable position of compromise, he said. "For that reason, it's not the similarities that have been the secret to success, but the differences."

At the celebration in Bonn, the city's Franco-German Choir performed the piece "Boum" by the French composer Charles Trenet, featuring the lines "If our heart goes 'boom,' then everything goes 'boom' along with it and awakens our love.'" Politicians have described the relationship between the two countries as a marriage of convenience. But others have not shied away from using the word "love."

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